Member Spotlight: KickUp’s Jeremy Rogoff Helps Teachers Find Mentorship
According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, roughly half a million U.S. teachers, or approximately 13 percent of the nation’s 3.4 million teachers, decide to leave the profession each year. This decision is primarily due to the lack of support and care from school districts.
KickUp is an educational platform targeted at those teachers who feel isolated. It helps them connect with questions to other educators, thought partners and mentors. Its mobile-first technology opens the lines of support for teachers and opens up networking opportunities within and outside of their network.
We met with Jeremy Rogoff, a former high school Spanish and math teacher and the cofounder of KickUp, to talk about his role not only as an educator but also as a social entrepreneur.
What is KickUp?
KickUp creates an on-demand support network for teachers. A teacher in any school with any level of experience can connect with thought partners or mentors in five minutes or less. Our platform allows teachers to communicate and escalate challenges to a secure network via video or mobile chat, lets administrators unlock data that provides a real-time pulse of their school’s performance and empowers networks to recognize and badge their people with competency-based expertise.
What led you to start KickUp?
I was a teacher in rural Arkansas and Washington D.C., and throughout my teaching experience I realized I lacked quality support and partnership from other teachers and mentors. Sometimes they were great thought partners, but at times the people within my immediate surroundings didn’t have the expertise I needed.
I discovered that my best form of professional learning came from a teacher in New York City who taught my content and had several years of experience. It was kind of coincidental that I got connected to him, but he completely changed the way I thought about my classroom. I thought this was something that other teachers should also have access to—it should not be left to chance that you meet somebody who can completely change the way you think about your career and your classroom.
Eventually, this experience led me to think about how I could do that on a larger scale, and through research I found out that a half a million teachers leave the classroom each year, citing a lack of support and a feeling of isolation. The second thing that validated my approach to KickUp is that a big number of teachers stay because they find thought partners within the field of education.
Since we know why teachers leave and stay, we need to do something about it. Through KickUp, I wanted to create that opportunity for more teachers and schools.
What is the role of technology in classrooms?
I think technology can do a lot to connect human beings. And I believe that’s where the focus of technology should be in education. There are a lot of products right now marketed towards teachers as “silver bullet” solutions to all student-learning needs. Since I was a teacher myself, I know that none of those products can actually be effective unless the teachers on the ground have the necessary skills to use them.
Do you see yourself more as an educator or an entrepreneur?
I think my skillset right now is much better positioned for teaching because I just left the classroom four months ago. I’ve been trying to absorb the essential skills of an entrepreneur as I build the company.
1776 has been such a helpful resource for me. The more I test the waters of entrepreneurship, the more I discover more about where my strengths lie as far as presentation skills being able to communicate our vision. But I always do and will miss teaching, and therefore will probably head back to the classroom at some point because I think that’s where the biggest change happens. I truly think that no product or technology can make students learn without an excellent teacher leading the classroom.
How do you plan to build on KickUp’s success and continue to gain traction?
We are currently testing our product on multiple audiences of teachers and organizations that support them. One is creating an organic traction amongst our actual users and making sure that our users—teachers—are joining KickUp and recommending it to their colleagues. We are also building relationships with buyers—larger organizations such districts, charter networks and graduate schools of education— to learn about how KickUp can solve a true pain point for them and their teachers.
What piece of advice do you have for other edtech startups that are in the beginning state?
Your idea is only as strong as the number of people you put it in front of. The most important thing to do as an (early-stage) startup is to ask questions and receive feedback from others. Of course, you want to turn that feedback into a solution for your problem. I think the biggest challenge for every edtech company is finding a model that doesn’t just help pockets of teachers, but gains penetration into schools across the country. Have that in mind and also consider how your product or service will immediately benefit the teachers on the ground.
Finally, what brought you to campus and what keeps you around?
When a friend from college, who interned at 1776, heard what I was doing, he immediately connected me here. 1776 was perfect for me because I needed both a place to work and a network to tap into. I’ve been to a few events such as New Member Night and the Startup Showcase and have taken virtual classes so far. I’m always looking to connect to other start-ups here and learn from their successes and mistakes. But overall, 1776 is a great home base to have in D.C.